Ask The Doc - Stroke

Monday, May 19, 2014

Dr. Michael Connor

Question: Am I at risk of stroke?

By Dr. Michael Connor, Medical Director, Columbia St. Mary’s Stroke Centers

Stroke is serious. It happens fast. And because of how stroke impacts a person's health, it is essential that people get help right away.

With May being National Stroke Awareness Month, now is the perfect time to assess your risk and make the necessary changes to help reduce it.

To start off, it’s important to explain what exactly a stroke is. A stroke is a type of cardiovascular disease that occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts.

When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood and oxygen it needs, so it starts to die. When part of the brain dies, the part of the body it controls is affected. Strokes can cause paralysis and impair language and vision.

When dealing with injuries to the brain, time is of the essence. Therefore, it’s vital to know the warning signs of stroke. Symptoms include sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; and/or sudden severe headache with no known cause.

A quick and handy tool is to act FAST.

F = Face
Is one side of your face drooping? Is your smile uneven?
A = Arms    
Does one arm feel weak? If you raise both arms, does one drift downward?
S = Speech
Is your speech slurred or strange?
T = Time
If you observe any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately.

Though there are several stroke risk factors you cannot control (such as increased age, gender, family history of stroke and race), there are many that can be treated, modified or controlled with medical intervention.

High Blood Pressure
This is the single most important risk factor. Know your blood pressure and have it checked at least once every two years, or more often if it is above the normal range.

Tobacco Use
Cigarette smoking is the number one preventable risk factor for stroke. Do not smoke or use other forms of tobacco. The nicotine and carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke reduce the amount of oxygen in your blood. They also damage the walls of blood vessels, making clots more likely to form. Using some oral contraceptives combined with cigarette smoking greatly increases stroke risk.

While diabetes is treatable, having it still increases a person’s risk of stroke. People with diabetes often also have high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and are overweight, increasing their stroke risk even more. If you have diabetes, work closely with your doctor to manage it.

Heart Disease
People with coronary heart disease or heart failure have more than twice the risk of stroke as those with hearts that work normally. Dilated cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart), heart valve disease and some types of congenital heart defects also raise the risk of stroke.

Physical Inactivity and Obesity
Being inactive, obese or both can increase your risk of high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. So go on a brisk walk, take the stairs, and do whatever you can to make your life more active for a total of at least 30 minutes on most days.

Excessive Alcohol Consumption
An average of more than one alcoholic drink a day for women or more than two drinks a day for men raises blood pressure and can lead to stroke.

Illegal Drug Use
Intravenous drug abuse carries a high risk of stroke. Cocaine use has been linked to strokes and heart attacks. Some have been fatal even in first-time users.

You can protect yourself against stroke.

But rest assured, if a stroke does occur, Columbia St. Mary’s has Primary Stroke Center Certification by the Joint Commission on Accreditation for Hospital Organization. That means we have the staff and protocols to quickly recognize stroke patients when they enter our emergency department and to provide immediate treatment.

Dr. Michael Connor is a Neurologist and Medical Director of Columbia St. Mary’s Stroke Centers. For more info, please call 414-291-1218.

This article appeared in the May 15 issue of The Ozaukee News Graphic.



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